Electronic Arts returns to the skate park with Blackbox's Skate 2. The formula is roughly the same deal as 2007’s initial run, except this time around it has been tinkered and tooled with to make a better skating experience. Tony better think about returning to his old tricks because Electronic Arts is starting to own the sport. This is Skate 2.
In Skate 2, boarders return to the fictional city “San Vanelona”, now labelled “New San Vanelona”, for more of the activities and lawbreaking hijinks. For those who didn’t play the original Skate, you don’t need to shy away from the sequel. Skate 2 takes it easy on you and ramps you up as your progress in the game. I wasn’t lucky enough to run with the original game, so for me and many others Skate 2 will be our first introduction to the series, and I certainly wanted to see what the buzz is about.
It’s obvious from the get-go that Skate is going to be thrown up against the grand-daddy of skating games, “Tony Hawk”. So whatever Tony doesn’t do, Skate picks up upon and rolls with. First and foremost is bringing a sense of realism into the genre. Things have changed with the latest Tony Hawk games, but they never manage to pull off the street smarts of Skate which brings you don’t to the pavement with force and conviction. The young wolf will always be a little more hungry then the leader of the pack, and that is what is happening here. EA Blackbox is hungry and is proving itself by reinventing what gamers want out of skateboarding game and Skate and Skate 2 are the proof. It's almost enough to make you forget about that Tony whatshisname?
Skate 2 is a good game, but even with all its realism and grit that I just praised, it doesn’t have that foolish fun factor that some games might enjoy. This is where you get into a toss up, fun over-the-top Bam Margera, Tony Hawk or the street style approach in Skate 2. Don’t get me wrong Skate 2 is fun and this is easy apparent as you wrack up points by trashing your own body, its crazy, its fun, but it is not the Hawk which borders on outrageous and zany. Again, things have been changing with the Hawk and given Skates install success we might see the student become the teacher in skate gaming.
Now, I’m sure you’re here to reading to hear a fan boyish rant about Tony Hawk vs. Skate, so let’s get into the game. Skate 2 main potatoe is the career mode which gives the player a number of activities to perform while being wrapped around an instantly forgettable storyline. The plot does just enough to keep your board rolling from one trick to another, but its hardly Winterhouse. For specifics you character is released from prison to return to New San Vanelona only to learn that a organization called the Mongocorp has set up a great deal of security measures to stop anyone from skating, or entering their private property. This gives the player a goal, fight the man, and remove all the anti-skater security from the city while regaining your own reputation as a top player in the skater game.
To get back on the top spot you will need to get involved in a number of activities including head-to-head match up with the pros, trick competitions and various other activities like magazine shoots and high score challenges. If you have already played Skate then you will feel at home with the controls and the games general set-up while newbie’s will need to settle in to a comfortable spot on the couch and learn how to skate, Blackbox style. Skate 2 eases new gamers into the mix starting with the easy tricks while ramping up along side the story. I found the pacing comfortable in Skate 2 while it kept me on my toes challenging my skills as I learned the popping thumbstick controls.
Even as I learned the control scheme in Skate 2, the game was a little frustrating in how it made you perform specific tricks in an order with one misstep putting back at the beginning of the challenge. This leads up to some frustrating spots in Skate 2 which can be a minor setback. At times I was really getting annoyed at the analog sticks control scheme and how sloppy it can be (or is it me?). Even more frustrating then a missed placed thumbstick hit is missing a trick spot by an inch and having to replay the entire spot. Unless you are a natural, I’m sure you will be cursing the game a few times during its run. Thankfully you can pick your battles and what was hard becomes easy with a little practice. Skate 2 isn't going to baby the gamer, and even though it was frustrating at times, it made me appreciate it more when I pulled off a more difficult spot.
Besides a little frustration Skate 2 is a laid out perfectly for navigating on spot to another either instantly, or doing the old fashioned way. The mini-map is always fastened to your HUB, so it’s near impossible to get lost. This means Skate 2 is built on the sandbox formula with new areas opening up as you progress. This is a necessity in a Skateboarding game and Skate does a great job balancing what you can do in each area. Skate 2 is open for your entertainment, so you will have as much time as you need to play and explore each section of New San Vanelona. Skate 2 also introduces the ability to jump off your board to explore and freely move around objects in the game world. This feature was the most sought out feature that wasn’t included in the original, so Blackbox obliged the fans.
Jumping off the board isn’t as smooth as I expected as its controls are a little jittery. Your character can easily get caught on objects which can be a little annoying. The on foot feature is a little clumsy, but this minor setback given the freedom and creativity it gives the player. This feature is used in the challenges where you have to make a certain spot, but there is no way to practically perform the trick. When this happens its time to jump off your board, look for an object to help and then drag it and set it into place. Sometimes the challenges can be a little to obvious on how to make a certain spot, but hey, it’s their first run at this. Free running also opens up new areas you couldn’t reach before giving a small amount of enjoyment from simple exploration and fooling around with jumps and tricks.
Continuing on the inventive nature of Skate 2 is the ability to create your own customised logos and graphics for your characters digs off the official website. This is pretty damn cool and it there is no waiting period either. You can also edit your custom made videos to make a cool little short video of your best moments within the game. Electronic Arts is looking into improving the editing features on the site to make your vids even cooler, however for now this is a cool feature that goes above the call of duty for the game.
Online Skate is a lot of fun to boot around with friends, or hit it up with strangers online for some friendly competition. There are a number of modes that can be accessed including tricks, bailing events, races and more. That’s the single bit, but you can now play co-op with another player trying to work towards a common goal. This comes in the form of activities like going for a high score with everyone contributing to the total, simultaneously grinding a rail. Working together is a fun way to play Skate 2 and when played with the right people can make lesser talented gamers feel like they are accomplishing a lot more, on the other side of this some gamers don’t appreciate someone dragging the pack down. If you are not into playing online and still want to enjoy Skate 2 with friends it has an offline multiplayer section with support for up to four players. Strangely, this mode is a turn based affair rather than a split-screen deal. This Party Play mode has three modes that are extremely fun if you don’t mind waiting to take your turn.
Graphically Skate 2 does a good job looking the part with a lot of detail placed on the character models and objects placed around the game world. On the board the game looks great in motion partly because you have no time to notice any low resolution textures and minor grips in the graphical performance. When you hop of the board the story changes a little with the animation starts stiffing up. On foot the glitches seem to pop out a little more. This is likely because you attention is focused on the environment looking for objects to move, or new areas to explore. Kicking back on the board Skate 2’s fluid animations, impressive shading and attention to detail makes a difference. Skate 2 is also developing its own nice urban style and architecture to the city that sticks out and yet seems real. I really like where the team is taking Skate visually and hope they continue their urban guerrilla work in the future.
Music plays a big part in this skater with a long list of supported tunes including LL Cool J, Rage Against the Machine, Motorhead and more. Besides rocking it up with over 50 songs the sound effects are excellent which helps give portray the games authentic feel. Rolling over different surfaces make the wheels sound different, connecting with the pavement at different speeds, for different highs have all been adjusted. Everything seems spot on. Skate 2 also has a good amount of VO work that has gone into the game with the pros representing themselves in digital form. For the most part the lines are delivered good, although it easy to understand that not all the skating celebs feel natural in the recording booth. All in all it’s hard to complain about the audio in Skate 2, Blackbox has done a great job capturing the realistic sounds of skating through an urban city.
The urban stylistic boarding in Skate 2 continues down the realistic path while still managing to feel refreshing. Skate 2 improves on the original with a host of new features to keep you entertained as you work your way up the popularity poles in the New San Vanelona. For the features, the most notable one is the ability to jump off the board and create your own spots in real-time. It might be a little jerky, but it was much needed feature that didn't make it into the games first cut. Besides being footloose there are lot of challenges to mess around with online, and off. Skate 2 is packed full of content including its “good enough” career mode.
If you had any doubt, Skate 2 is worth the upgrade and is still a welcomed runner in the genre. For new gamers that are fresh to Skate, you should check out the series to see what it is all about. Keep in mind that the controls and precise nature of the challenges can be a little frustrating, but it comes with a little persistance. Aside from a moderate learning curve, Skate 2 is solidifying the franchises spot in the gaming market for the time being.
Gameplay:8.5, Graphics:7.5, Sound:8.5, Innovation:7.5, Mojo:8 Final: 8.0 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 01.26.09